As with nearly every other sector of the economy, the Covid-19 pandemic has slammed the housing market. The U.S. Commerce Department reports new home sales fell by 15.4% in March from February, the largest single-month decline since July 2013.
But Houston seems to have bucked the nationwide trend---at least so far. "For March, we were up eight percent," says Rob Cook, chair of the Houston Association of Realtors' Multiple Listing Service. "We had such a dynamic January and February, and that jettisoned into March."
The Houston numbers for March indeed look positive, but since the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders and business closures didn't fully kick in until more than halfway through the month, it's a safe bet the real impacts of the pandemic have yet to be seen. Cook tells KTRH the preliminary figures on April do not look promising. "Pending (home sales) are down about 36%, new listings are down about 29%, and we're down about 49% in showings...that's just in the last three weeks," he says.
While the final April numbers (due out in about two weeks) are likely to show a significant decline, they don't paint a fully accurate picture of the market. Cook points out that the large decline in showings only means physical showings, while realtors are adapting with virtual showings. "I talked to a high-producing agent who said if I do a physical open house, I may get one or two people, or nobody...but when I do a virtual open house I get 60 views," he says. "So agents are finding out the technology actually gives them greater exposure to buyers."
Ultimately, Cook believes the Houston market has proven its resiliency by recovering from past crises, like the 1980s oil crash, the 2008 Great Recession, and Hurricane Harvey. "Once we open things back up, I think we'll see a slow progression (in the economy)," he says. "And I firmly believe that real estate is going to lead us out of this."